Sometimes I wonder if missionary life isn't some cruel version of Survivor. Every week we hear news of another faithful one that's bit the dust. Don't get me wrong, we're no "Super Missionaries." Although we've come along way, baby, we're still spring chickens and we continue to be humbled and refined every.single.day.
We're learning about what it takes to be a missionary; not just a quick-stint missionary, but a missionary for the long haul. Here's a few characteristics that we're working on:
1. Pioneer Spirit. If you're the type of person that likes everything neat and pretty and handed to you on a silver platter, do not try missions. In many cases, you will be starting projects from scratch, everything takes longer and requires a lot of sweat equity. It's getting your hands down and dirty with the nationals and learning to do things their way, not yours.
2. Age doesn't matter. I thought (naively) that younger missionaries are the best because of their energy and passion. I no longer judge a book by it's cover! Some of the most committed, wisest, loving folks we've seen serving cross-culturally are over the age of, well.... their hair color has evolved.
3. Infinite Flexibility. Can we tell you how important this is? We are both type "A" personalities. We like to be on time, we like things planned and we like to be in control. Well, let's just say that after seven years of serving in a "Don't worry, be happy" culture, we're not sure what our personality type is anymore! But, I would have acquired a stress-related illness had I not
4. Dependent upon the Lord. You are not IT. The country you serve was doing fine before you came and they will continue on when you leave. You are not the Savior and you NEED Jesus-every day. Don't let the good you are doing, and the relationships you are building feed your ego. Nurture your intimate relationship with the Almighty. You are on a mission that's great than you are and you need Him.
5. Stick it out. When the going gets tough, don't bail out! Missionary work is the toughest job you'll ever love. You will have days where you think you've landed on Mars. You will feel lonely, discouraged, unappreciated and you will miss the food back home. Suck it up and stay with it. You'll find your groove and those days of culture shock and not understanding the culture will pass.
6. Find support. Where we live, there are no other missionaries (or English speakers) within a four hour drive of us. While we miss the idea of a "missionary community" we have an incredible support of friends, churches, family back in the States that write us encouraging emails, snail mail (we love letters!), and call us on skype. Thankfully, the modern technological age helps keep us connected. More than emotional support, spiritual support is a must. We have 2-4 prayer partners that we can write anytime and they are praying for us on a continual basis. This is crucial for our sustenance.
7. Be a Learner. Learn a little and use it a lot. Don't arrive into your host culture and act like a know-it-all. Be vulnerable and show your human side. While I really dislike looking like a fool in public, I realize how much closer it brought me to the people I serve. They just love it when they can teach me something and it keeps me good and humble, something that God wants in all of us.